Matthew Walker Launches New Dental Residency Program
Section: People & Places in the News, September 2018

(from Nashville Public Radio)

Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center has expanded its dental department in response to a growing need among people who lack insurance coverage. The manpower and money come from new partners who also see a glaring problem.

The extent of Nashville's dental problems is revealed whenever free care is up for grabs. Hundreds waited in line for hours at Meharry Medical College this spring. Mary Ashley Tosh had lived in pain for years without going to a dentist, despite multiple cavities and a broken tooth that needed to be extracted.

"I mean, I never planned on it because I knew it is expensive," she said.

Tosh is on TennCare, but the state's Medicaid program doesn't cover dental work for adults.

Saint Thomas Health has found that when it offers free care in the community, half the people come because of their teeth. And it's not just for cosmetic issues, though appearance is not a small consideration. Bad oral health is connected to poor digestion and even heart disease.

"The sad truth of it is that day, we're only able to provide very basic services like fillings and a lot of extractions," Saint Thomas chief clinical officer Greg James said. "We know there are services in the community, but there is still such a tremendous need."

So the hospital system was looking for a more permanent solution. And it donated $2.5 million to expand Matthew Walker's dental unit and upgrade the equipment.

"It's also going to mean more access to technology advances in dentistry," says Matthew Walker’s dental director, Robyn Mays (pictured above). "Certain procedures such as implants and surgeries, that we typically would not do, we will be able to do now, due to this partnership."

The partnership also involves additional personnel provided by the University of Tennessee, which is launching a new residency program that will staff the facility. It will eventually supply 10 residents a year, and they will not be in competition with Meharry's dental school down the street. Three of the four residents who've already been hired just graduated from Meharry's dental school.